1918-D Buffalo Nickel

One of my many hobbies is metal detecting.  That’s where you use a handheld electrical instrument to detect metal objects in the ground (coins, military buttons, colonial artifacts, gold nuggets, etc.).

Unfortunately, thanks to my day job, racing, other hobbies, and life in general, if I get out to “hunt” 6 times in a year that’s a lot.  So last year I joined a metal detecting club to meet other detectorists and talk shop, compare finds, and improve my technical knowledge.  And, yeah, live vicariously through the other members – most of whom who are retired and would love to show you what they pulled out of the ground earlier that morning while you were busy in your office cubicle.  (Jealous much, Mitch?)

Envy issues aside, it’s been a great experience so far.  I’ve never had much luck finding anything of significant age or value out there.  My oldest coin is a Lincoln cent from 1938 which I found on a property dating back to the mid-1700’s.  So it’s pretty eye-opening seeing everyone else’s finds – Spanish Reales, Large Copper Cents, Mercury Dimes, Walker Half Dollars, you name it.

Two weeks ago we held our annual club picnic and private “hunt” at a beach in NJ.  In the hunt a large area is cordoned off on the beach and plenty of coins, tokens, and jewelry are hidden under the sand.  Active members who paid a nominal extra fee for the picnic could then use their metal detectors to search for these items.  Uncovered tokens could then be exchanged for raffle tickets to win plenty of great prizes that we had left over from the previous year’s events.  The fee goes towards covering the food, picnic area rental, and any extra coins & prizes that the club didn’t already have in storage.

I had helped with their “open hunt” last fall – where non-members pay a more substantial amount of money for 4 rounds of heavier competition against others for more valuable items – but had never participated in one myself.

It was a great learning experience.  I couldn’t detect, scoop the sand, pocket the loot, and move on as quick as the old pros but I still came away with 3 Buffalo nickels, a bronze small cent from 1896, a small sterling silver ring, a 1 oz. pure copper round (coin) and 7 tokens exchangeable for raffle tickets.  I also came away with valuable experience learning how to beach hunt.  I didn’t win anything with those raffles, though in a separate raffle that day I did win a 1 oz. silver round worth about $18-20.

I definitely got my money’s worth from the experience.  But tonight I discovered that I benefitted more than I previously realized.

Buffalo nickels (also known as Indian Head nickels) were produced from 1913 to 1938, at which point they were replaced by the Jefferson nickel that we all know today.  When “Buff nicks” wear down from handling one of the first items to disappear is the production date which is located under the Indian on the obverse.  Dates are key to determining any coin’s value as some years and facilities had shorter production runs than others.  Without a visible date there is usually very little chance to figure out its scarcity.   “No Date” coins typically sell for much less money and can usually be found in a local coin dealer’s “junk bin”.

One of my Buffaloes from the club hunt appeared at first to be a “no date”.  There was quite a bit of wear on the coin and predictably the date was worn away.  Tonight I took a closer look at the coin.  Using a magnifying loop revealed very little until I wet the coin.  Bringing it back to the loop and catching it at just the right angle in the light I was able to very clearly read “1918”.  On the other side of the coin was a tiny “D”, indicating that it was produced at the Denver mint.

With almost 80% of the coins that year produced in Philadelphia, the Denver edition is a much tougher find.  And because of this the Denver coins are worth much more.  You can get a Philadelphia Mint copy in the same condition as mine but with a clearly visible date for about $8.  With the little D on the back?  At least $25.

Not bad for a former junk box coin!

I occasionally find Buffalo nickels in my pocket change or in coin rolls from the bank.  Now that I know how to overcome the “no date” dilemma I’m going to have to keep my eyes peeled the next time one of them shows up.

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